Thursday, May 6, 2021

DPW Spotlight Interview: Mary Beth Harrison

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. To enter to win Mary Beth's painting "Three Friends" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Mary Beth's DPW Gallery Page:

Some of the best times from my childhood were spent around the kitchen table drawing cartoons with my brothers. I loved to copy the characters from Dr. Seuss books and my brothers liked to draw super heroes. As I grew older, I continued to draw, but also learned to paint. I was blessed with an excellent high school art teacher who encouraged me in all my pursuits and exposed me to diverse media and styles. I remember running into her at a restaurant a few years after high school graduation. She was a little disappointed to hear my career plan of becoming a biology teacher, but I reassured her that I would draw the best amoeba the students had ever seen! (click to read more)

What did you want to be growing up?

My first memory of a possible career goal was to play for the San Francisco Giants! My parents were huge fans and my older brother and I collected baseball cards and listened to the games on the radio. I even got to see Willie Mays play.

When did your artistic journey begin?

Creating art was important to me as far back as I can remember. I have clear memories of projects created in Kindergarten, even. When there was an art project at school, in Sunday School, in an after-school program, or at home, I was excited and absorbed by it. I received a lot of praise for my efforts which encouraged me to keep going. In high school I had a wonderful teacher all four years who I praise to this day for all she did for her students.

Three Friends
(click to view)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the DPW home page announcing Mary Beth's interview.

Did you have long periods without creative expression? How did you get back on the horse?

In my twenties the chances for creative expression dwindled as I gave all my energies to college, work, career building as a Biology teacher, and then marriage, home-building, and child raising. Photography became my creative outlet, but I often spoke about how much I wanted to get back into painting and drawing and that it would be my retirement activity one day. On my 50th birthday my husband presented me with a full painting kit – easel, paints, canvas, brushes, etc. and said, “You don’t need to wait for retirement.” Best gift ever!

What mediums and genre do you gravitate towards? Which ones don’t appeal?

Oil painting is my bliss! I tried acrylics and watercolor, and both have some appeal, but the feel of oil paint and the colors and glow I can create with it feed my soul and cause intense joy.

Harvest Light
(click to view)

What was the process like of pinpointing your personal style or finding your voice?

At first, I painted from tutorials in books and on YouTube. I read about the processes other painters used, listened to podcasts, and watched DVDs from the library. I bought way too many colors of paint and had no idea how important it was to learn color theory. Gradually I picked up the information I needed to begin painting from my own photos without copying them exactly. I never wanted to paint so realistically that a painting could be mistaken for a photo. I wanted to paint what a scene felt like. I especially admired the work of California impressionists such as Edgar Payne. Gradually I realized that the place I live and love, the small town of North Fork near Yosemite National Park, and its surrounding area, contains all the scenery I could ever want to paint. It is not all that I paint, but it does provide the amazing California colors that fill me with joy. Today, I have work in three local galleries and two restaurants, and it is very evident to me that people who see my work share my love of the area and the impressionistic style I use to capture it.

My desire in painting is to share the joy I feel when I experience beautiful surroundings and situations. Sunrise on my gravel driveway, people talking on a corner, steam rising from hot tea, an excited dog with eyes full of love, even a cement truck on a country road have all been painting subjects that I see my audience respond to with the same joy I felt when painting them. My first attempts to paint these common moments were not too successful, yet the joy of painting and trying caused me to keep going. As an older adult I have found that my ability to allow for failure, appreciate it even, is a great gift. Every painting does not have to be “sellable.” Some are just lessons.

Pink Boots
(click to view)

Name an artist (or artists), well-known or not, who you admire. Why?

The three artists I have learned the most from are my high school art teacher, Barbara Ogarrio, a local oil painter, Linda McCoy, and the well-known artist of today, Dreama Tolle Perry. Barbara Ogarrio gave me encouragement, knowledge, and confidence in my vulnerable teen years. Linda McCoy gave me skills, techniques, and the opportunity to dive deep into oil painting in a rich community of artists. Dreama Tolle Perry taught me the alla-prima technique I mainly use now and still gives me constant reminders to embrace the joy and love available every day to those who look for it. I admire all of these women for sharing their joy and skills with so many.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger, creative self — what would that be?

I would tell my younger self to silence the inner critic, don’t be afraid to share your gift with others or worry about what they will say or think; just create.

Summer's Delight
(click to view)

Do you utilize any habits or tricks for winning the distraction and procrastination battle?

I clean my palette at the end of a painting session and lay out fresh paint for the next day; just knowing it’s ready to go will get me painting.

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you push forward?

I listen to the Plein Air podcast and Savvy Painter podcast to get inspiration from other artists. Hearing about their own struggles lets me know I am not alone, and that success can come when you least expect it if you just keep creating.

A Walk in the Poppies
(click to view)

What are some of your long and short term goals for yourself or your art?

In the short term, I want to improve my plein-air work. I am painting with a local group once per month at various locations and it is a lot of fun, but so challenging to get the same quality of work I get in the studio. I think I need to stop expecting that. In the long term, I am working on a series of twelve paintings based on old photos of local history. I have four completed. A local history group and I are coordinating to bring awareness to the rich heritage of the central California foothills. I hope to have a solo show of this work in 2022.

What does success mean to you personally?

A teacher once told me that the dictionary is the only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work.’ I have always taken this to heart and believe that when I put in the work to gain the skills I seek, my success will be evident on the canvas. When I introduce myself as an artist and show my paintings to those who feel the joy in them, I am successful.

A Wedding to Remember
(click to view)

What is one of your proudest moments in your creative life?

In the spring of 2020 I retired from thirty-five years of classroom teaching. I planned my retirement party in conjunction with my first solo art show. I called the show, “Joy Remembered” in honor of finding my joy after many years of neglecting my creative side. A local gallery, The Yosemite Gateway Art Center, agreed to host me and I had about two hundred people on my invitation list, a food truck, and live music all booked. COVID derailed the plans for May and we rescheduled for July. By July we were still unable to gather, so I did the whole show as a Facebook Live event! I am shy by nature and being on camera was not something I looked forward to. Many problems with technology also crept in, but with a couple of good friends, lots of laughing, and plenty of patience, we pulled it off! I sold sixteen of my thirty paintings!

Thanks, Mary Beth!

© 2021 Sophie Marine

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